Bridget Watson Payne: Part Two

06/08/17

You may remember a few weeks ago, I posted the first part in my two-part interview with author, artist and editor extraordinaire, Bridget Watson Payne, about her recently released book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. If you haven’t seen that book yet or read that interview, head over here to take a look. The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up is one of my favorite books of the year.

Bridget’s second book, How Art Can Make You Happy, was also just released. And guess what? It’s also one of my favorite books of the year! Part of why I divided this interview with Bridget into two parts is because both of her recently published books are really, really entertaining, sensitive and, most importantly, useful.

So I’m back to interview Bridget a second time about How Art Can Make You Happy. To learn more about Bridget, how we know each other (she’s an important person in my life) and her first book, head over here to our first interview. Then come back to this post to read on.

Without further ado, I present to you: Bridget Watson Payne, back to talk about How Art Can Make You Happy.

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Lisa: This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I’m curious to hear in your own words — why a book about how art can make you happy?

Bridget: I found myself having so many conversations with people—friends, colleagues, at parties, over coffee—where, when the subject of art came up, folks would all of a sudden start to express so much guilt and anxiety. Maybe it’s because of my job title? Maybe you imagine that if you’re talking to someone whose job is “Senior Art Editor” that must mean that this person you’re talking to is super-duper knowledgeable about art, makes it out to every big art show and every cool obscure art show, and is looking down on you because of stuff you don’t know or stuff you didn’t go see. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I wanted to wave my arms and shout—no, no, no! Art shouldn’t make you feel crummy and guilty! Art should bring joy into your life! Art should make you happy! So then I realized maybe I should write a book about that.

Lisa: As someone who came to a profession as an artist later in life — and with no formal training or connections to the “mysterious art world,” I remember feeling completely terrified when I first started out that I would be found out for being a fraud and that there was some secret society who would certainly kick me out. I have my own theories, but why do you think we have gotten to this place as a society where we are so intimated by not just art but “the art world”?

Bridget: I think it’s kind of this cultural myth. I mean, yes, sure, there are a few snobby jerks out there who like to use their knowledge to shut others out or make them feel small. But for the most part, it’s a fiction. You can walk into a museum on the free day, or into an art gallery on any day, and look at the art there. No one is going to stop you. The art world isn’t actually shutting us out, we’re shutting ourselves out with this cultural story that says, oh, art’s not for normal people art’s only for fancy people. Nonsense! Art is for everyone. Art is for you and for me and for you and for you and for you. That’s not to say that the story isn’t a real and powerful thing in itself—it comes out of some pretty deep-seated societal issues we have around class and culture and intellect and education—and it’s not always easy to throw off that kind of cultural baggage. But we are right to work to try and do so.

Lisa: I also think our perceptions about art are changing because of the internet and because museums, in order to stay relevant, are making great efforts to make art accessible to everyone. Art in all of its forms is becoming more mainstream, and our conception of what is art is also broadening. Art is for everyone, and art can be anything. To be clear, some people (mostly inside “the art world”) find this shift offensive. Why does your book argue this is a good thing?

Bridget: I am 100% egalitarian when it comes to art. Everyone should be invited to the art party. If they’re not then, what? You’re making art some sort of rarefied insider-y thing on a mountain top and keeping this source of joy out of people’s grasp? That’s insane. I really have a hard time believing that we’re still having these conversations about what is and is not art in this day and age—but I know it’s true, we are. Every time I go to a museum show about the work of a fashion designer—which, let’s be clear, have been some of the best exhibitions out there in recent years!—I overhear all these conversations debating whether fashion is art and should it be shown in museums and blah blah blah. And I’m like, seriously? Are we still seriously having this debate in the year 2017? More art—a broader more inclusive definition of art—and art accessible to more people—is only ever a good thing. We would never say movies or music or books or ice cream or vegetables or pillows or bicycles are only for a few special people, so why on earth would we say that about art, this amazing huge source of inspiration, empathy, and joy?

Lisa: When I walk into a museum, despite the genre or period or artist, I am often overcome with emotion. I have been known to cry or to feel overwhelmed, and not in a negative or positive way. I am simply moved. Sometimes I find myself rushing through because the feelings are so intense. I’ve heard a handful of other people talk about this same experience. Why is this happening this happening to me?

Bridget: You are letting art do to you exactly what art does, if we let it. Art is a powerful engine of emotion. When I say art makes you “happy” I don’t mean happy like skipping around in a field of daisies eating bonbons, I mean happy on a deep and profound level. Happy like moved. Happy like awake. Some art is deeply unpleasant—it can shake you up, upset you, outrage you—but those strong emotions can also lead to this kind of deep happiness I’m talking about. If we really let art in, if we open our eyes and let it do it’s number on us, the natural result is feeling. Not every time, of course—some art works for some of us and not for others—that’s why learning to trust your own taste is so important, you have to find the art you like so you can find the art that moves you. Because feeling that feeling of feeling feels good.

Lisa: Why should people prioritize seeing and engaging with art (even if it is intimidating or even overwhelming at first?)

Bridget: I argue in my book that art wakes us up to three profound realities: the reality of the world, the reality of others, and the reality of ourselves. As humans, we tend to be blinkered to the wonder of the world around us—we have to be or we’d be overstimulated all the time. We tend to be self-centered and have a hard time really truly believing that other people are just as real as we are. We tend to get caught up in the mundane day-to-day and disconcert from our own capacity for deep feeling, thought, and pleasure. When we prioritize making time to engage with art, we are prioritizing being our best and our happiest selves. And sure that’s a payoff worth facing down intimidation or overwhelm for.

Lisa: There is a whole section in the book about looking at art without leaving your house. This is important for people who are curious but don’t live in an area with galleries or museums (of which there are vast swaths across the world). What are some of the things you suggest in the book about how those folks can engage with art?

Bridget: Yes. If we’re going to say art is for everyone (and we are!) then we have to get really clear about the fact that not everyone lives near museums and art galleries. Luckily, there are lots of ways that art can come to us. We can order affordable art online and hang it on the walls of our homes. We can pull those art books someone gave us as gifts off the bookshelf or coffee table and actually look through them, slowly and carefully. And then, biggest of all, there is the internet. Going online is your gateway to accessing an almost infinite amount of art. Try art blogs (a few of my favorites are The Jealous Curator and Booooooom), art websites (I adore Artsy.net), and the amazing thing nowadays is that more and more museums are digitizing their entire collections. You can actually see way more art on the website of the Met than you can if you actually go to New York now.

Lisa: When you can, though, why is it different or special or important to go look at art in person? What changes?

Bridget: There’s something magical about seeing art in person. In the same way that seeing a live performance is very different from watching a recording, there is something visceral and immediate about being in the same space with the actual physical object that the artist created with their own hands. Because, let’s not forget, art is a physical experience. You feel it in your body. And you see things in such a different way when you stand in front of them, in person. Not just that you see more details—the individual brush-strokes in a painting, for instance—though there is that; but you actually see the original in a different way than you see the reproduction. Take Impressionism, for example. We’ve all seen certain Impressionist masterpieces, Monet’s waterlilies, say, reproduced so many times—on posters and coffee mugs and mouse pads and in the dentist’s waiting room—that we can hardly see it any more at all. It’s become this boring accustomed decorative background that our eyes and brains tune out or gloss over. But when you’re lucky enough to see it in person, it hits you. The size of it, the scale, the brushwork—but beyond all that: the living magic of it. Suddenly you realize how insanely revolutionary it was, at a time when people wore top hats and corsets, to paint what things felt like instead of how they literally looked. The audacity of it! Wham!

Lisa: I have been a professional artist for ten years, and I am just getting comfortable talking about and having opinions about art for the first time in my life. Why is talking about and having opinions about art so intimidating for so many people? And how can we move on from that fear?

Bridget: Frankly, we’re afraid of looking stupid. We think people are going to judge us for our lack of knowledge, or for having “bad taste” or something. And, yes, overcoming those sorts of fears can be hard. But also? Overcoming those sorts of fears is the real and proper work of our lives as adult human beings. Worrying about what people will think of us holds us back in nearly every arena of human endeavor. And like most things, the way to get good at something—in this case talking about art—is to practice. Start out with someone you trust. I recommend finding a friend to go on art dates with—go to a museum or on a mural walk together and talk about what you see. What do you like? Dislike? Why? Once you get comfortable with your friend, move on to chatting with others. Art is a great topic of conversation for social situations—it gets you away from boring small talk and onto something really interesting. And a great way to get to know people is by finding out about the art they like (and you may discover some new artists this way as well). People worry that others may know way more than art than they do—but it’s usually not the case. The one thing others may have mastered is name-dropping. If you learn the names of your favorite artists then you, too, can drop names into the conversation and start to feel more and more competent and knowledgeable.

Lisa: What was your favorite part of writing How Art Can Make you Happy?

Bridget: It was so much fun to be a writer! Because I’m a book editor by profession, I’m so used to being on the other side of the editor/author relationship. It was awesome and exciting to get to take my editor hat off and just concentrate on writing the very best book I could. And I got to work with a great editor of my own—Christina Amini. I felt like the whole experience gave me a deeper appreciation both of what editors do and what authors do.

Lisa: In one line, describe one message you hope people hold with them after reading it.

Bridget: Art is magic, and it’s for everyone.

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Andy Miller // Creative Pep Talk!

05/31/17

   

One of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the past few years is being a guest on Andy Miller’s brilliant podcast, Creative Pep Talk (you can listen to my episode here). Andy is not only a fantastic podcaster, interviewer, community builder and pep-talk giver, he is also a phenomenal illustrator with a distinctive style that is so delicious I want to eat it. Andy now has a book out — also called Creative PepTalk — and I talked to Andy recently about this amazing new book, what’s behind it, and why it is we all need a pep talk now and again. The book is filled with “pep talks” from 50 different artists (including me, see my spread below, thank you Andy!). It’s colorful, bold, unpretentious and inspiring.

And so, without further ado, I introduce to you Andy J. Miller, this week’s Interview with Someone I Admire!

Lisa: Andy, before we launch into a discussion on this fantastic book, tell us a little bit about you. Who are you? What do you do?

Andy: First of all, SO THRILLED to do this, I just love and support everything you do and have done for the creative world, so I just want to say THANK YOU and thank you for being in this book! You were at the top of my contributor wish list!

Lisa: Oh, thank you, Andy. That means the world to me!

Andy: A little about me: most people know me by Andy J. Pizza these days, and I’m an illustrator who works with clients like Nickelodeon, Google and Converse. I’m also a podcaster, and my podcast Creative Pep Talk exists to help people make a good living, making great creative work.

I’m deeply passionate about sharing the breakthroughs I’m having in my creative career in hopes that it might enable a breakthrough for someone else.

Lisa: How did you get the idea for this book? Why Pep Talks for creatives? Did anything particular inspire the book?

Andy: I can’t remember exactly what sparked this idea but I’ve always loved a good collection / anthology. I kept seeing all this beautifully lettered creative wisdom and realized that it would kind of work as a double whammy as an anthology. On the one hand, it’s just a collection of phenomenal lettering and on the other hand it’s jam packed with the wisdom of a creative self help book of sorts.

I think a lot about why I’m so attracted to the idea of a pep talk. Here’s what I’ve realized: I’m just doing for others what I’d like done for me. Ironically, this pep talker requires LOTS OF PEP TALKS to keep going. A good word of affirmation or fresh perspective from a friend or mentor can keep me going for weeks!

Lisa: Haha, I am right there with you. Sometimes I say to my wife at dinner: I NEED A PEP TALK, PLEASE! There is such a myriad of terrific advice in the book. And so  I found myself saying, “YES!” and “YES!” and “I so needed to hear that today!” when I read it. I think sometimes people think those of us who have been working for years and are the ones dispensing the advice in the book somehow don’t experience insecurity or doubt or challenge. But we do! So this book really is for everyone. What is some of your favorite advice in the book?

 

Andy: I keep going back to Jon Burgerman’s “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Different.” Creative people get so caught up with the surface level metrics like how perfectly something is designed or how technically perfect something is. In my opinion, it’s more advantageous to get out of those races and find your own lane completely. Jon perfectly sums this up with his piece.

Jen Mussari’s page is another I keep returning to. She says “Make Friends, Not Contacts.” I am a MASSIVE believer that often in the long run, nice guys actually finish first. Those who scheme and cut corners might be quicker off the starting blocks, but their shortcuts catch up with them. Jen’s phrase reminds me that getting ahead doesn’t mean using people, and it’s possible to succeed and be a decent person at the same time.

Lastly, I’ll say Andrew Neyer’s “Stop Making Cents”. Andrew is a close friend of mine, and along the way we’ve both been very supportive of one another. We’ve always encouraged each other to charge fair rates and never to sell ourselves short.  I was so thrilled to share this piece of his with the world.

Lisa: There are so many fantastic artists and designers in the book. How did you begin to think about and select all the people in the book?

Andy: The number one criteria for this book was creative wisdom. I genuinely started with a list of people who had made an massive impact on me and had illustrated some of their wisdom visually.   Many of these folks profoundly changed my perspective and in turn my creative career with their work, their writing and their talks.

Lisa: One of the things I love about the book is the diversity of pep-talks, but also the fact that in some ways you can distill most of them down to a few key points: 1) believe in yourself (and your ideas), 2) don’t give up and 3) take risks. Your own advice in the book is about our infiniteness and potentiality when we believe in ourselves and in the power of our ideas. Say more about how that idea has played out in your own experience.

Andy: Looking back it’s very clear to me: this whole life is first and foremost a mind game with ourselves. Essentially, I’ve spent the past 9 years trying to find the right perspective or mental breakthrough that allowed me to trick myself into making progress. I am convinced that we are all infinitely more capable than we could ever imagine, and we can rise to this potential if we can just find the tricks and tips to get out of our own way.

For instance, from age 15 – 21, I was in a cycle of self destructive tendencies. They kept my self esteem low and convinced me that I was doomed to a live a life of defeat and failure. In that time frame I made some friends that pulled me out of this. When these people I respected and admired saw me as an equal, it changed the way I saw myself. This helped me break free of these cycles.

I see it in my creative career too. Every so often someone I look up to or admire or see as an ‘untouchable’ will reach out and encourage me. It always increases my self worth and belief in my own potential. For many of us we had teachers that did this for us, but I think many of us need this kind of mentorship throughout our entire lives! In short: seek these people out!

Lisa: What do you hope people who read your book get out of it? What do you hope they walk away with?

Andy: I hope at the very least they come away with some hope for the future of their creative work and that this hope helps them to make progress. On a deeper level, I secretly hope that this book will act as a kind of mentor in the form of a hardback book! I hope that its wisdom comes to them in the exact right moments to act as a catalyst for real breakthrough.

 Lisa: What is next for you? What are you working on now? (Here just feel free to share anything fun or exciting that you are working on!)

Andy: I don’t think I can say much about it at this point, but I’m working on a book that I write and illustrate that is very in line with the stuff I talk about on the podcast. So stay tuned for that!

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Andy: www.andyj.pizza instagram: @andyjpizza and twitter: @andyjpizza

Thank you Lisa!! This was amazing. Thank you so much for everything you do for the creative community!!! 😀

Lisa: Buy the book here or wherever books are sold!

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Sam Kalda: Of Cats and Men

05/24/17

If you have been following my blog for the last few years, you know that I do interviews periodically with people I admire — mostly fellow artists and writers. A couple of years ago, I discovered the work of illustrator Sam Kalda. Sam came to a book signing for my book Art Inc in Brooklyn back in 2014, and introduced himself to me after the signing. I looked him up the next day, fell in love with his work immediately and asked him for an interview. You can read that original 2015 interview with Sam here to get to know his story.

Recently, Sam, whose career has continued to grow over the past couple of years, published his first book, Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen. I love this book so much (and I am sure you will too) that I decided to have Sam back to chat with him again. Welcome back to Sam Kalda!

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Lisa: Sam, I absolutely love this book! Tell us about how the book came to be?

Sam: Thank you! As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to draw and loved cats. I began the book while in my first year of the MFA in illustration program at FIT. In college, I came across photos of Marlon Brando and Jean Cocteau with their cats. In these gorgeous black and white photos, cats seemed to unite these two very different fellows. They were the first members of this rag tag gentleman’s club that evolved into Of Cats and Men.

Lisa: Demystify the CAT MAN for us. How are Cat Men different from Cat Ladies (or are they?). What are the defining characteristics of Cat Men?

Sam: The book’s introduction serves as a kind of “Catman” manifesto (Catmanifesto?) that’s playful rebuttal of the bizarre way we gender animals and of the cruel “crazy cat lady” stereotype. The way I like to think of it, Catmen are enlightened fellows standing alongside their cat-loving sisters as “crazy cat men.”

Lisa: When I read the book (and part of what I love about it), I couldn’t help but think about what your research phase must have looked like. How does one go about finding out which men from history were Cat Men? And then how did you manage to learn so much about their cats and life with cats? It seems so obscure!

Sam: I had the benefit of time in accumulating these characters—an early version of the book is about four to five years old. The project was always in the background, so I could be a bit of a magpie and pick up ideas here and there. I love to read and do research, and collected books about cats in art history, literature, etc.

In terms of finding the subjects, the writers were probably the easiest to find as they tend to leave an extensive paper trail of their thoughts. I discovered Balthus’ cats at a show at the Met. I love Murakami novels and anyone who’s read Murakami know’s he loves cats—especially cats that can talk to humans. I had classmates and later fans of the project send me suggestions of people they came across while reading, or while surfing the web. In fact, George Balanchine was recommended by a friend in an Instagram message. From there, I just worked one by one to unearth interesting stories and anecdotes to really confirm their Cat Man “credentials.”

Lisa: Oh, what would we do without the internet! It’s a virtual treasure trove. Who did you discover in your research that surprised you the most?

Sam: I’m not sure surprised is the right word, but I was absolutely delighted by some real gems discovered in the research phase. For instance, while reading up on Maurice Ravel, I came across a biography stating that he (Ravel) was one of the first men in Paris to wear pastels. Amazing. Another favorite anecdote about the painter Balthus didn’t make it into the book. According to one writer, Balthus was known to refer to himself as “The Thirteenth King of Cats.” Balthus came to the number thirteen because the capillaries in one of his eyes vaguely resembled the number 13. Research can occasionally be dull, but I live for those eccentric tidbits.

Lisa:  I love the section in the end about robots and cats, because it begs the question: what is the future of cat men? And what role has the internet played in making us all cat people again? How do cats make us all — even robots — more human?

Sam: Originally, I envisioned the narrative voice in Of Cats and Men to be reminiscent of Werner Herzog at his most “out there.” While that changed slightly, my inner Herzog gave me permission to go a little Sci-Fi in the conclusion.  I’m little prone to Luddite paranoia and certainly had fun camping that up.

You’re very right to say that basically everyone is now a cat person because of the internet. But our everyday interactions are so mediated by devices. We are very uncomfortable with being present and unoccupied. I think spending time with cats—animals in general—is something that is fundamentally good for us. It keeps us present and strengthens our reserves of empathy. Ergo, cats make us more human. Art can do that too, but *most* art unfortunately is not covered in fur.

  

Lisa: If you could spend a day with any one of the men (and his cats) profiled in your book, who would you choose and why?

Sam: Probably Edward Gorey. Maybe go antiquing and browse some used bookstores around Cape Cod? Talk about the virtues of fog? Sounds joyous.

{Sam and his cat, Sister}

Lisa: Tell us about your cat! What is her name, how old is she and what is she like?

Sam: Her name is Sister. She’s a 10 year old black and white long hair and looks like a nun wearing a habit. I think that’s my Catholic school kid coming out. She was born in a boiler room in Brooklyn and now lives with her two dads in a small, well-curated apartment. Like all house cats, she’s a rags to riches story.

  

Lisa: I love it! Sister is very lucky. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and for making this book! It’s a gift (And I’ll literally be gifting it to many cat men in my life!). You can get it here and wherever books are sold.

Sam: Thank you, Lisa!

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Bridget Watson Payne: Part One

05/16/17

Hello, friends! Today I am posting the first of two interviews with someone who I not only admire enormously, but someone who is very near and dear to me, both professionally and personally: Bridget Watson Payne. Bridget is not only an amazing writer and artist (more on that in a second), but also my longtime editor at Chronicle Books. I have worked with Bridget on SEVEN books (five of my own, two that I illustrated for other writers) — all over the past six years. We’ve become good friends in that time, and Bridget has been a steadfast champion of my ideas (even my weird ones). Working with her has literally changed and expanded my career path (and basically my life) in ways that I cannot even begin to enumerate. And I won’t, because this interview is not about me, it’s about Bridget and her recent book: The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, which she wrote (and which was illustrated by a colleague at Chronicle).

While Bridget’s main job is helping other people make beautiful, interesting books as Senior Art Editor, she is someone who has never neglected her own creative spirit. This is part of why I love working with Bridget — she intimately understands the creative process, and also what it means to make stuff and put it into the world, which makes her enormously sensitive and humble. You can view Bridget’s super cool paintings of mostly ordinary objects on her Instagram feed under the hashtag #bwppaints.

Bridget is also a writer. Today’s post is dedicated to Bridget’s first book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, which is one of my favorite books of the year. Taking advantage of being an adult is all about understanding basic things — some that we don’t even know we don’t know (but Bridget breaks them down for us), and some of them are not secret, but that we just forget sometimes (even in my case, at 49). Rather than being preachy, the book is written with humility and humor. And it’s a great gift for anyone going through a big transition in their teens or 20’s. I’ve included some great spreads below so you can get a flavor for it.

I’ll also be back in a few weeks with Part Two of my interview with Bridget, in which we discuss the second book she’s published recently. Stay tuned for that.

And so it is my great pleasure to introduce Bridget Watson Payne, in my latest Interview with Someone I Admire!

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Lisa: When I was a little girl, my mom had a jar of candy that she kept up high in a cupboard in the kitchen. Every time she ate some, my siblings and I would whine – because we wanted some too. She used to say very emphatically: “When you are a grown up, you can eat as much candy as you want.” In other words, no, you can’t have any, it’s MINE, but your day will come. I remember thinking that while that seemed like becoming a grown up would take FOREVER, it also seemed like the ultimate freedom. When I read The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up, I felt like one of the overriding messages of the book is: while some parts of being an adult are tedious and painful (like navigating relationships), ultimately, you get to eat as much candy as you want. In other words, you make the rules about how you live your life. Talk about when you began to make this realization.

Bridget: That’s exactly it! And, you know, it’s funny—I actually know exactly the minute I started to make that realization for myself: it was a few weeks after my twenty-seventh birthday. I was meeting some friends after work at a bar, and I was early, and it was crowded, and the only place to sit was this big seating area with a big sofa and several chairs. It was the perfect place for me and my friends to hang out — but they weren’t going to be there for at least another twenty minutes. And I questioned, can I do this? Can I sit here all by myself and hold down the fort until everyone else gets here? Will people glare at me? Can I get away with this? And that’s when it happened. I answered myself, in my mind, loud and clear: “I’m twenty-seven years old!” I thought, “I can do whatever I want!” I sat down and held the spot and no one cared in the least. That’s when I saw it for the first time: being a grown-up means making your own rules — you decide what you can and can’t do, you decide how much space you’re going to take up in the world.

Lisa: Tell us more about The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. How did this book come to be?

Bridget: I was waiting for kind of a long time on a crowded train platform with my friend Wynn who’s a fellow book editor at Chronicle. Finally the train pulled up and everyone started to squash onto it, even though there was another train directly behind that first one. And we turned to each other we were like, obviously we should wait two minutes and take the second less-crowded train! And then I said, oh, I should remember that, that’s perfect for my list of tips for being a grown-up! And he asked me to tell him more about this list, so I started to describe how I’d been collecting these kinds of tidbits for over a decade, and someday when I was elderly and had hundreds and hundreds of them I would try and put them into a book. And he suggested that, hmm, perhaps it ought to be a book a little sooner than that. And he went on to be my editor!

Lisa: I know because I’ve talked to you about the book that you’d been keeping a list of “adult tips” for a long time. But once you started writing it, did you come up with more? What was the process like of narrowing down to the right amount of tips for the book and getting the right balance all the flavors?

Bridget: Yes. Initially when I first started collecting them I was in my early-to-mid-twenties and was learning my way around the kitchen — so a lot of them had to do with cooking. Things like: “turn the bottle not the cork” (that’s how you open a bottle of champagne), “the meat stops sticking when it’s done” (a key lesson in patience), and “you don’t need a garlic press” (I’m a big believer in a less-is-more approach to utensils). But as time went on, and then as the book started to evolve, I realized I wanted to cover a lot more kinds of things — tips about socializing and relationships, tips about work and money, home stuff, fashion stuff — I wanted the book to run gamut of different parts of life we encounter as adults. And whereas I’d originally pictured a very long list of hundreds of tips, each tip just maybe five or ten words long, I pretty quickly realized (with my editor’s help!) that each tip should actually be a whole spread, should have a bit of longer text explaining it, and so we wouldn’t need nearly as many of them as I’d first thought. Because it turns out, I might say “turn the bottle not the cork” and think that’s totally self-explanatory, but other people who aren’t inside  my head aren’t going to know that’s about champagne—they’re going to be all “what bottle?” “what cork?”

Lisa: Speaking of different flavors, some of the tips in the book are sort of everyday, trivial things like secrets of opening a bottle of champagne or properly using a tin foil dispenser. But other things are actually about big and more weighty topics like setting boundaries in relationships, valuing yourself as a lovable person, the importance of expressing your feelings, and accepting that you can’t change your parents. How did you approach writing the more in-depth parts of the book so that they weren’t out of balance with the simple kitchen tips?

Bridget: It was a little tricky. I definitely had a few of those same “can I get away with this?” moments! But I just applied my grown-up skills and told myself “I can do what I want!” And what I wanted to do was really to include that mix of simple practical things and bigger deeper things—because to my mind those are two of the important things, and ultimately the really fun things, about being a grown-up: you get to master your environment in little practical ways and you also get to set up your emotional and interpersonal life in a way that works for you. In terms of writing, I did want the book to have a coherent voice—I wanted it to all feel like the advice you might get from an older sister or friend who not so long ago was struggling with the exact same things you’re struggling with and who is here to tell you that your adult life is going to be rad, that you get to do what you want, that you deserve to be happy.

Lisa: Tell us a little bit about your trajectory as a writer. You are currently Senior Editor for Art Books at Chronicle. Have you always wanted to write your own books? Or did the idea to write books happen once you became an editor of other people’s books? Did you enjoy it? Will you write more? Did being an editor prepare you in any special way?

Bridget: I’ve always wanted to write, but it took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted to write. I’m a very committed reader of novels, so for a long time I thought that if I was going to write that meant I needed to write fiction. It took me ages to figure out that neither my interest or my talent lay in that direction. And several years I’ve written a good deal of poetry (you can read it on my blog). But it took working on non-fiction books as an editor for about a decade before it occurred to me that, oh, hey, I could write non-fiction! That’s the thing with being a grown-up, right? We’re never really done figuring it out! So, yes, once I got going I loved writing this sort of book. It’s so satisfying to get to use my own natural conversational voice and tone, to get to express some of the things that have been on my mind, in some cases for many years. I am definitely hooked and want to do more! I’m chatting with my editor now about what I might do next—I’ve got a number of half-baked ideas in mind but nothing concrete yet. I think the thing about being an editor myself is that I really appreciate the editor’s art—I found it just fantastic to have editors of my own, someone to help make what I was doing the best version of what it could be. I’ve loved doing that for others and I really valued having folks do it for me.

Lisa: I am 49 years old and yet I felt liberated by reading The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. I don’t think we ever outgrow the reminders that we deserve to be loved or that we should always be ourselves. Talk about the purpose the book serves in reminding seasoned grownups that life is supposed to be fun and that you can make your own rules? Sometimes we forget these things.

Bridget: Definitely! Whereas perhaps the most obvious audience for this book is among young adults—recent college grads, people moving into their first apartments, that sort of crowd—I really wanted to make a book that ultimately would work for all of us, for grown-ups of all ages. I once had a conversation with my ninety-year-old great-aunt  about how, even though I was thirty-something at the time, on the inside I still often felt like I was about twelve years old. And she surprised me by saying, oh! Me too! That she would look in the mirror and think “who is that old woman?!” because, like everyone does sometimes, she still felt like a kid on the inside. I’m 41 now and I know I need constant reminders that other people’s snobbery is not my problem, that 95% of the time no one is looking at me, to set boundaries, to think long-term, to pay my bills on time, to go get an ice cream cone in the middle of the work day with a friend if that’s what we both want, or need, to do. There’s always more to learn. We all need reminders.

Lisa: We’ll be back next month with an interview about your other new book How Art Can Make You Happy. In the meantime, where can people find you on social media and the internet?

Bridget: My website bridgetwatsonpayne.com has info on my books, my drawings, my work as an editor, and links to my blog Pippa’s Cabinet. I’m @watsonpayne on Instagram and also @watsonpayne on Twitter.

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Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh

03/28/17

I met Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh back in 2012 when I began teaching business classes for illustrators in San Francisco. But I really got to know Dawline when she was a “live studio audience” student for my taping of my CreativeLive class Become a Working Artist. I remember recognizing immediately that there was something special about Dawline — a determination and resolve and obvious passion and talent that made her stand out. Dawline has always been an artist, but in the last few years, she has taken her art practice to entirely new places. She is incredibly prolific and inventive. Last year, she left her long-time job as the manager of a popular art supply store in San Francisco to become a full time working artist and art teacher. As a friend of Dawline’s and a follower of her work online, I am continuously impressed by her ability to produce interesting work day after day. Last night on Instagram she wrote, “When I don’t make time to draw, paint or carve a block, I get super cranky. I feel it in my neck and jaw.” She shared an image of a piece she made yesterday that, while she wasn’t happy with it entirely, she felt better, because she had pushed through and made something.

Dawline lives and works in Oakland, California. Her current work is focused primarily on what she calls “the shifting urban landscape,” and she has taken a deep dive recently into work about her family. She is an avid observer and prolific photographer, who employs a vast catalog of visual notes and memories as the fodder for her work in drawing, painting and printmaking. She uses a range of media including relief print making, pen and ink, photo transfer and encaustic. What you will find below are not only images from Dawline’s prolific and diverse portfolio of work, but her thoughts on diving deep into subject matter, abandoning her dream to become a Solid Gold Dancer, leaving your day job to pursue a career as an artist, her love of teaching art, and the grit it requires to make a living as an artist, especially when you are first starting out.

Without further ado, I present to you Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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Lisa: Tell us about you. Where did you grow up, what role has art played in your life? What was your path to becoming a full time working artist?

Dawline: I grew up in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York, about 2 hours north of New York City, the third of four daughters. When I was very young I was strongly influenced by the activities of my two older sisters – they were always writing and illustrating little books, creating plays for us to perform for our parents or playing instruments. I remember being a very sensitive, day dreamy little girl who bored very easily, so those types of activities gave me something to focus on.

My parents had reproductions of art on the walls growing up – one of the ones I remember clearly was “Four Studies of the Head of a Negro” by Rubens, and a book of “The Helga Pictures” by Andrew Wyeth. I looked at that book for hours – I couldn’t have been more than 5, but it was the first hint that art was something that someone could do her whole life, and that one could focus on a single subject for years. During my formative years, I was always involved in some visual or performing art program at school, whether it was glee club, school band, creative writing, or art class. As kid who loved to express herself but wasn’t sure how to do it verbally, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to be social and be “heard”.


Lisa: So did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Dawline: I always figured I’d be an artist in some shape or form. Initially, in elementary school, I had designs on becoming a Solid Gold Dancer with regular appearances on Soul Train, but I later settled on the more practical career of architect because I loved drawing houses so much. By the time I got to high school I decided that I wanted to design album covers, and spent hours practicing the logos and portraits if my favorite metal bands in #2 pencil. Art was a constant in my life, and I saw it all around me, but it wasn’t taken seriously as a practical career choice by adults around me at that time. Nevertheless, I persisted and took as many different art and literature classes as I could, applying to and getting into the art school of my choice at the end of my junior year, much to the chagrin of my dad. That was the beginning of a very long battle between doing what was “practical” to support myself, and developing my artistic practice. The rest is history.

Lisa: One of the things I’ve always been impressed with in you is your discipline. I was going to say you have an “insane” work ethic, but I corrected myself because I don’t want to in advertently pathologize any commitment to living a disciplined creative life (though I often describe my own relationship to my work as insane)! So let me rephrase by saying you have an incredible work ethic. You make and share work nearly everyday. You are incredibly prolific. What drives that in you?

Dawline: Ha! It is a little insane, and I think it is part of that now internalized struggle to prove that, yes: art is fun, art is passion, and art is valid as a life’s work. I try to give a little bit to nurturing my career every day, rain or shine. It’s also practical – since this is my way of processing information and expressing things that are on my mind, a day without making art would almost be like a day without talking to anyone. Those periods when I can’t make artwork for whatever reason feel a little bit like solitary confinement. I’m too much in my head without an outlet. It’s both vice and virtue.

Lisa: Tell us about the themes and major influences in your work. How do you come up with ideas for what to draw and paint and make?

Dawline: For the past few years my work has centered around themes of home in all its various meanings and iterations. I used to have these recurring dreams about houses, and I wanted put this imagery down on paper. I started with literal images of houses, much like the type I used to draw as a child – triangular roofs, square windows, rectangular doors, all very symmetrical. As I repeated these forms it evolved into a meditation on place and the stories behind them. As I did more research into the subject and discovered Carl Jung’s theories on dreams and the idea of the house as self, I started to dig a little deeper into my thoughts, and these images became conversations about different facets of my life. I started to integrate different pictorial symbols into my work – clouds, waves, lightning bolts and even Depression era pictographs to compose images that could be taken at face value or examined more closely. In recent months, I have gone very literal with my “home” imagery, and I am currently working on a body of work that depicts members of my immediate and extended family. It’s a story told without a set chronology.

I’m a big reader and researcher and probably watch more television than is cool to admit. A lot of times, if I come across a reference or concept intrigues me or I don’t understand I jot it down or look it up for further reading. In that way, I’m always trying to expand my knowledge base and explore the different ways we as humans seek to communicate the basic themes of our existence – love, hate, hunger, war, procreation, hope and survival. It’s in everything, from documentaries about World War II to Sharknado 4. I would say that popular culture is one on the biggest influences in my work.

Lisa: One of the questions I get a lot is “How do you come up with your ideas?” I am always curious about this question for other artists. How do you decide what to work on from day to day? What role do ongoing projects and bodies of work have in your art practice?

Dawline: Because I’ve been doing this for most of my life, figuring out what to do every day is second nature. I generally have a ton of ideas floating around my head, and I’m tasked with slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time so that there is a cohesiveness and consistency to my work. I usually take a lot of photos every day as a visual diary, which I then organize into folders by theme on my computer. I use the notes section on my iPhone to jot down stray thoughts and refer to them often for those rare times when the ideas aren’t flowing so freely. Because I work in so many various mediums I rely on bodies of work and projects to rein myself in.

Lisa: Teaching has become a big part of what you do. Tell us about what & who you teach and the meaning it has in your work and life.

Dawline: Currently I teach a wide range of age groups, from kindergarten to senior citizens, in both studio and community settings. I find it helpful to be able to step outside of my approach to creating and see things from a new perspective. My approach to teaching is geared more towards skill sharing and developing critical thinking skills, as opposed to “This is the only acceptable way to get this result.” I find it rewarding because I generally come away learning so much about the variety of expression from one person to the next, even when given the same prompts and materials. I’m currently teaching relief printmaking to all age groups, as well as intro to digital photography for elementary school students and leading interactive art exhibition tours to school age students.

Lisa: for years you worked as a manager at a major art store in the Bay Area, but recently you jumped ship to become full time artist. People ask me all the time, “How do I know when I’m ready to leave my day job?” And I always say: “It depends”. How did you know you were ready?

Dawline: When the time is right to leave, you will see a giant flashing exit sign that you cannot ignore. I say that metaphorically, of course, but it’s also very real.

My advice to someone deciding to leave their day job would be this: Be very honest with yourself about your ability to be self-directed, be objective about your work and ability to handle rejection and be graceful and keep moving forward, and think about what you would be willing to do to support yourself during lean times. Another important thing to consider is how good you would really be at being your own boss, realizing that the boss isn’t always necessarily your friend. Working for yourself means showing up consistently and on time, working long hours and making tough decisions. It can take a really long time for you to see returns in your investment in yourself as a business. Before you leave, examine your reasons for wanting to take the leap.

My reasons for leaving were many, and had a bit to do with company culture, but at the heart of it I was working 42 hours or more a week at my day job in addition to putting 4 hours or more a day into my studio practice. That year I had an art show booked every month and was getting good feedback on my work, including exposure from press and online interviews. I did a self-assessment and concluded I had no problem putting in long hours considering I was relatively autonomous at work, while at the same time good at prioritizing my art career. I focused on what I liked about my job – marketing, connecting with customers and the community, and sharing my knowledge of art materials and techniques. It gave me a sense of the different ways I could support myself as a working artist. Once I had that list down it was easy to start transitioning out of that job and focus on a positive and realistic outcome. My one exception to that advice is if you find yourself working in a toxic environment on the verge of burnout. If you find yourself in that situation, locate a lifeboat and leave asap. Once you head down the road to burnout, you put your future productivity at risk, regardless of where you land.

Lisa: You work in so many mediums from watercolor to photography to block printing. Why is working in so many ways important to you? What does your diverse art practice give to your experience as an artist?

Dawline: The simple fact is I really love exploring different materials. Maybe it’s because I tend to get bored easily, maybe it’s a side effect of working in the art materials industry for close to 20 years and having to explain different things to people with some degree of authority. If you think of art as a form of expression, using different materials is like speaking different languages. I like pushing the bounds of different mediums, but just as in speaking different languages, a beautiful poem in one language may not rhyme if translated literally into another. I enjoy the process of seeing how far I can go in one direction and then switching it up into another. It’s like a form of visual code-switching. As a person growing up in an Afro-Caribbean household in the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s I think it’s an intrinsic part of my experience of trying to fit into two different worlds on a daily basis, that naturally shows up in my work.

Lisa: I know you would describe yourself as a life-long artist but you also readily admit that you are just in the beginning stages of making a full time living as an artist. It’s tough to keep the momentum required to do this full time, especially when you are in the first few years of your career. There is a lot of hard work, hustling, networking and marketing required, and often this is when people give up. What keeps you motivated to continue with such passion everyday? What are your hopes and dreams for yourself as your career evolves?

Dawline: I got through these first few years with the help and encouragement of my close friends and family – especially during the time leading up to and immediately after I left my full-time job. They had my back when things were very tough, and I don’t think I can ever really thank them enough. It’s tremendously important to have people that support you though the ups and downs, because it’s so easy to give up hope at any given time. The “ups and downs” part is key – because the art market can be such a competitive field there are times that feel tense when you have friends trying for the same opportunities. It seems counter intuitive, but even the little successes can be a source of stress at first – people wondering aloud how you may have gotten opportunities when they feel their work is as good or better, or conversely, spending time and money on developing work and having opportunities fall through and facing questions on when you’ll be getting a “real”  job. It all circles back to having a clear direction on where I wanted to see my career and how I wanted to develop my work. It helps me to keep my eye on the larger picture. As my career evolves I’d like to be a little more self-sustaining – as it stands now, I’m still in “work almost every day” mode as I try to find a sustainable flow.

Lisa: Who are your art heroes? Who do you admire and why?

Dawline: Sometimes I get really weary of heroes, because there is always something a little problematic that creeps up (nervous laugh). But, when I think of two people whose careers in expressing themselves I deeply admire, I think of Prince and David Bowie. They aren’t visual artists in the classic sense, but in terms of exploring different avenues of sound, performance, experimentation, and visual representations of themselves, I really can’t think of anyone I admire more. They presented as two people that were always wholly themselves, and that is something I strive to emulate as an artist. In terms of visual artists, I love Jenny Holzer for her use of text and environment to make points that are bigger than the sum of their parts, Alice Neel’s unflinching portraits, Diebenkorn’s use of color to capture the incredible quality of the light in the Bay Area, and Hokusai for his “pictures of the floating world” and the fact that he changed his name more than 30 times to reflect the different periods in his life and work. I also love Jugendstil design and propaganda posters. They fall on opposite ends of the spectrum with the former being highly decorative and the latter being very strait forward in its messaging, but I love the combination of solid color and stylized portraiture.

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Dawline: My website is www.dawlinejaneart.com, on Instagram at @disfordilettante, on Twitter at @dawlinejane_art and on Facebook at Dawline-Jane art and Illustration.

Lisa: Thank you for sharing your talent and wisdom!

 

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